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Grossman struggles again, Bears still clinch division title

Dec 3, 2006 - 10:07 PM CHICAGO (Ticker) -- Even in a time of celebration, Rex Grossman caused some more angst in the Windy City

Grossman completed just six passes and was intercepted three times, but another strong defensive performance and another touchdown on a punt return by rookie Devin Hester carried the Chicago Bears to a 23-13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in a sloppy affair that featured 10 turnovers.

The win enabled the Bears (10-2) to clinch their second straight NFC North title under coach Lovie Smith.

The sellout crowd at frigid Soldier Field cheered heartily for the defense, but is clearly losing patience with Grossman, who has started every game and appears to be regressing.

Grossman completed just 6-of-19 passes for 34 yards and his three interceptions raised his total to 14 in Chicago's last seven games.

"I know the fans' frustration, but I have pretty thick skin," Grossman said. "I am just thinking too much. I am analyzing too much, rather than just going out there and playing."

Smith continues to stand behind Grossman, who was booed for most of the second half.

"Rex Grossman is our quarterback," Smith said. "We're 10-2 and we won the division with Rex at quarterback. But we still have a lot to do as a team."

Fortunately for Grossman, the Bears intercepted Brad Johnson four times and recorded five turnovers for the second straight week. Five turnovers forced by the defense last Sunday was not good enough in a 17-13 loss at New England since Grossman committed four turnovers - three interceptions and a fumbled snap.

Chicago managed a total of six first downs and 107 yards against the Vikings (5-7). Hester topped that on his own with 138 yards on kick returns.

The big one came when Hester fielded a bouncing punt and somehow eluded four Vikings who appeared to be on top of him, reversed to the left side and raced 45 yards for a touchdown with 12:20 left in the second quarter, giving the Bears a 7-0 lead.

"The return was set up to the left," Hester said. "The wind held the ball up. I hesitated to the right, then cut back to the left. The team set up a wall in the middle and I ran for it."

It was the fourth touchdown return for Hester, tying an NFL record. He set a club record with his third score on a punt return and his other touchdown came when he ran back a missed field goal 108 yards for a score in a November 12 game against the New York Giants.

The Bears' defense accounted for a touchdown and a safety. It also set up the only touchdown by the offense.

Nickel back Ricky Manning Jr. returned an interception 54 yards for a score with 4:33 left in the third quarter and safety Chris Harris and defensive tackle Tank Johnson tackled running back Ciatrick Fason for a safety 1:01 into the fourth quarter.

Chicago's only score on offense came after linebacker Brian Urlacher intercepted a pass by Brad Johnson and returned it two yards to the Minnesota 33. Four plays later, Cedric Benson scored on a 24-yard run with 3:04 remaining in the third quarter.

The pass to Urlacher was the last one by Brad Johnson, who was yanked by coach Brad Childress after completing just 11-of-26 for 73 yards with four interceptions.

"You'd have to ask him if he (Johnson) was bothered by the cold weather," Childress said when asked if the 19 degree weather with a wind chill in single digits affected the quarterbacks. "I just felt like we were making too many mistakes and needed to make a change to turn the momentum."

Brooks Bollinger replaced Johnson and directed an 11-play, 89-yard drive which Fason capped with a four-yard touchdown run with 5:40 left in the game.

Bollinger was 7-of-9 for 70 yards, but left on Minnesota's next possession after being sacked by defensive end Adewale Ogunleye.

Rookie Tarvaris Jackson finished up for the Vikings, completing 3-of-4 passes for 35 yards.

Chester Taylor rushed for 99 yards on 17 carries for the Vikings before leaving with a rib injury. Signed as a free agent in the offseason, Taylor has rushed for 1,098 yards.

A 42-yard run by Taylor set up a 23-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell with 8:54 left in the second quarter. Longwell added a 30-yarder with 10:07 remaining in the third quarter to pull Minnesota within 7-6.

Grossman was picked off twice in the first half and his first attempt of the third quarter was intercepted by linebacker Ben Leber at the Chicago 36.

But the Vikings didn't take advantage. Johnson threw a pass that went off the hands of tight end Jeff Dugan and into the arms of linebacker Lance Briggs.

"We had chances and left points on the field," Childress said. "You don't get those back. We just made too many mistakes."

Manning, who had served a one-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy, turned his team-leading fifth interception of the season into a 54-yard touchdown.

After the ensuing kickoff, Urlacher recorded his interception.

Rookie Danieal Manning had the other interception for the Bears and linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer recovered a fumble.

"Our defense took over the game," Smith said. "We lead the league in turnovers forced (39) and we have been consistent from day one."

Leber, cornerback Antoine Winfield and linebacker Napolean Harris had interceptions for the Vikings.

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